Missouri man sues, alleging three priests sexually abused him in 1980s

The Kansas City Star/November 1, 2011

A southwest Missouri man filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing three Roman Catholic priests of sexually abusing him in the early 1980s when he was between the ages of 9 and 12.

Joe Eldred, who lives in the Springfield area, alleged abuse by Monsignor Thomas J. O'Brien, a retired priest in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese; the Rev. Mark Honhart, who left the diocese in 2001; and Thomas Reardon, who left the diocese and ministry in 1989.

Eldred, 40, filed the lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, also alleges that diocesan leaders knew about the sexual misconduct but covered it up.

"Today I am a grieving man," said Eldred, surrounded by two dozen friends, family members and former classmates at a news conference outside the diocesan headquarters. "I grieve for the boy I was and the innocence that was lost at the hands of men my family and I trusted who abused their position of religious authority."

According to the lawsuit, most of the abuse occurred at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish, where Eldred attended grade school, and at Lake Viking, a community about 60 miles northeast of Kansas City. The lawsuit alleges O'Brien and Reardon took Eldred to Lake Viking between 1981 and 1984, plying him with drugs and alcohol and abusing him in a car and at the lake house. The lawsuit also alleges that from about 1980 to 1984, Honhart sexually abused Eldred.

Eldred, who works at a Christian home for youth, said he had repressed the memories of the abuse and that they began resurfacing earlier this year.

He attempted to commit suicide on several occasions because of the abuse, the lawsuit alleges.

O'Brien, Reardon and Honhart could not be reached for comment. The diocese said in a statement that "over the past 27 years, neither Joe Eldred nor anyone acting on his behalf ever made contact with the diocese to report the abuse."

O'Brien has been retired from parish ministry since 1984, the diocese said, and has been restricted permanently from representing himself as a member of the clergy since 2002.

Honhart worked in six parishes in the diocese from 1980 to 2001, the diocese said. He most recently served in the Diocese of Scranton in Pennsylvania, but officials there removed him from ministry in February after receiving an allegation of sexual misconduct. The diocese said that "over the 21-year period of Father Honhart's ministry in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, there were no complaints of sexual misconduct brought to the attention of his superiors."

Reardon was assigned to five parishes over 22 years, the diocese said, and left the ministry in 1989. The diocese said it is in the process of formally removing him from the priesthood through church courts.

"Through a public liaison and ombudsman, the diocese has made in known that it will respond to all allegations of abuse," the diocese said.

O'Brien and Reardon have been named in dozens of sexual abuse lawsuits in recent years. Tuesday's lawsuit is the third to be filed against Honhart.

During the news conference, two women stood nearby and recited the rosary.

"I'm a Bishop (Robert) Finn supporter," said Katy Christy of Grandview, who also attended grade school at Nativity. "We're here to pray for the support of Bishop (Robert) Finn and for all the victims."

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